THE REEL ESTATE: The 12 greatest romantic movies of all time

Joseph Fahim
9 Min Read

What makes a good romantic movie? For some, it is chemistry between the actors; for others, it s the degree of empathy they establish with the leading characters.

It could also be about the emotional impact a romantic film leaves; the passion it ignites in your heart towards your beloved or someone you secretly admire; or the fundamental notion of being in love.

In short, what makes a good romantic movie is you, and how you respond to it. That s why any list of the greatest romantic films of all time would end up being very personal no matter how objective the reviewer attempts to be.

This is the case with my recommendations below.

So sit back, have a hot drink and remember the films that have taught us about the greatest passion in life. If you re in a relationship, watch these movies and relish every moment you re spending with your partner. If you re not, don t worry, we ll always have the movies.

Annie Hall (1977)Woody Allen s hilarious, yet surprisingly touching, comedy traces a neurotic comedian s (Allen) relationship with his delightful, ditzy girlfriend (Diane Keaton) from their first encounter till their breakup.

The tiny romantic moments immersed in Allen s eccentric realism are unforgettable; and Keaton s Annie is so lovely she steals your heart – and what an ending.

Before Sunrise/Before Sunset (1995/2004)A young American (Ethan Hawke) and a French college student (Julie Delpy) meet on a train; spend one day with each other and reunite nine years later.

The brilliance of Richard Linklater s little gems lies in his ability to create magic out of ordinary situations. The first film is about young love and the endless possibilities that open up in front of young people. The second one is about adult love and how the greatest love happens once in a lifetime. Here we learn that the essence of love is a really good conversation.

Bain El Atlal (Among The Ruins, 1959)This tearful Egyptian classic based on the late Youssef El Sebai s novel tells the story of a doomed affair between an unhappily married novelist (Emad Hamdy) and his young devoted fan (Faten Hamama).

The scene where the camera zooms out after Hamdy s death will suck every last ounce of strength in you and the ending will make you wonder whether time can erase the memory of one s true love.

Brief Encounter (1945)David Lean s small, subtle tearjerker revolves around a housewife s growing bond with a doctor in post WW2 England.

The film is a tender a romance as well as a social commentary about the expectations of men and women in that era. Moments of real love are few and short-lived and perhaps, as the film suggests, love is nothing more than a series of brief encounters between lovers.

Casablanca (1942)The granddaddy of all romantic movies remains as fascinating as it did 65 years ago for one primary reason: Humphrey Bogart s brilliant depiction of the crushed Rick Blaine.

The romantic scenes between Bogart and Ingrid Bergman are still incomparable; but it s Bogie s lonely Blaine sitting in his grand club, sipping his wine and reminiscing about his unrequited love that stays with the audience years after the movie ends.

City Lights (1931)Charlie Chaplin s silent seminal work sees his tramp falling in love with a blind girl and the great lengths he undertakes to restore her sight back.

The film is soaked in beautiful sentimentality that is perfectly integrated with Chaplin s slapstick comedy.

The last scene of the film, with Chaplin s magical smile, is one of the most iconic images in film history. This is the moment where the rebel rouser s protective shield is finally brought down to reveal an ordinary man longing for love and acceptance.

Chunking Express (1994) Kar Wai Wong, the greatest love poet of contemporary Chinese cinema, has dazzled the world with his cute and utterly delightful double story of two cops searching for love in Hong Kong.

The second story, starring the Asian version of Cary Grant, Tony Leung, and famed pop singer Faye Wong, is especially appealing. Like Wong s other works, the movie’s atmosphere is spellbinding with captivating cinematography and soundtrack.

You’ll have no choice but to fall in love with the beautiful Faye Wong; and the sheer joy of being haplessly in love will get to you no matter how hard you try to resist it.

The English Patient (1996)This epic romantic tragedy is one of the ultimate love weepies of all time, with nine Oscars to show for it. The film tells the story of a doomed love affair between an English explorer and the wife of one of his colleagues in a pre-WW1 Egypt.

Every single frame in this film is a work of art and it s impossible for anyone to hold back their tears in the last part. In its core The English Patient is about the power of love to transform a selfish, reckless human being into someone who sacrifices his life for his beloved.

Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004)Charlie Kaufman s scripted zany cult classic features Jim Carrey’s sublime (but sadly underrated) role as Joel, who tries to erase all memory of his ex-girlfriend (Kate Winslet).

Eternal is a love story about two outcasts. Despite its comedic overtones, the last scene, where Joel realizes he can t stop the erasing process, is moving and very delicate.

Remains of the Day (1993)The crowning achievement of the Merchant/Ivory collaborations is one of cinema s most heartbreaking tales of unconsummated, repressed love. Anthony Hopkins is Mr. Stevens, a butler whose veneer of servitude and professionalism prevents him from expressing his deep feelings for the housemaid Ms. Kenton (Emma Thompson).

The shadow of regret haunts every scene in the film; regret over the man Stevens has been raised to be and regret over the happiness he could ve tasted but never will.

Roman Holiday (1953)Forty-four years ago, a young actress named Audrey Hepburn embarked on a mission to steal our hearts; starting with this story about a princess who falls in love with an American journalist (Gregory Peck) in Rome. And the whole world helplessly gave in.

Hepburn s innocent charm is a gripping personification of the ideal woman whom we may come across but can never reach.

Un homme et une femme (A Man and a Woman, 1966)Two widowers (Anouk Aimée and Jean-Louis Trintignant) meet by accident and slowly drop their guards and fall in love in Claude Lelouch s quintessentially French film.

Akin to Kar Wai Wong’s style, the movie is highly atmospheric, ecstatically sensual and thoroughly absorbing. It captures the absolute state of being in love: Fear juxtaposed with comfort; confusion mixed with assertion; and joy infused with pain.

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